South Africa to import treated water from Zimbabwe

 ·15 Mar 2024

The Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with his Zimbabwean counterpart, Dr Anxious Masuka, for the sale of treated water from Zimbabwe to a border town in northern Limpopo.

The bilateral agreement signed on Thursday (March 14) will see the supply of about 15 million cubic metres per annum (equal to 41 megaliters per day) of treated water from the Beitbridge Water Treatment Works in Zimbabwe to the Musina Local Municipality through a 20km pipeline.

This is expected to take effect in 2026, with the financial structuring of the deal yet to be finalised.

Musina has a total population of just over 132 thousand people across 192 villages and one town. It is around 15kms from the Zimbabwean border.

The climate is described as dry, with limited sources of safe, drinkable water, with the community mainly relying on boreholes for supply.

Director general at the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Dr. Sean Phillips, told the SABC that “there is a shortage of treated water in Musina and as a result of that the residents and businesses in the area have been experiencing water supply disruptions periodically.”

Phillips said that DWS had been looking at various solutions, such as constructing new dams and water treatment works – but “those solutions are relatively expensive.”

The director general said that the cheaper alternative is to make use of water from Beitbridge in Zimbabwe, as the water there is “underutilized.”

This has been met with criticism, as many areas of Zimbabwe have been crippled by water supply issues. According to the United Nations, “there are severe water shortages, mainly caused by lack of treatment chemicals linked to insufficient foreign currency supplies.”

Executive manager of WaterCAN, Dr Ferrial Adam told Newzroom Afrika that “it’s an interesting one because if you just think about the fact that Zimbabwe cannot actually supply water to its own people – in the capital Harare, people are actually cut off from water for a few hours [daily] – but now they’re exporting water to South Africa.”

This collaborative agreement between South Africa and Zimbabwe has been in the pipelines since 2015 – however Adam questions whether this deal rather seeks to wash the hands of those unable to address the issue internally.

“South Africa has also failed to actually deal with the water issues in our own country,” said Adam. “Why could we not actually provide water [as] the issues in Masina have been going on for a number of years?”

Read: The best and worst municipalities for drinking water in every province in South Africa

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